After spending a relaxing week in beautiful El Salvador, I’d arrived into colonial Leon late on a Wednesday afternoon, and checked straight into Bigfoot Hostel, which was either the best place or the worst place, depending on who you’d spoken to. I arrived and was instantly distracted by an array of adverts for a bar crawl, and the ominous sounding ‘Volcano Boarding’ – naturally, I signed up for both, one after the other (not literally speaking).
For some reason, one of Leon’s favourite, must do activities, is to pick up a splintery wooden snowboard type thing, and go bombing down the side of a Volcano which last erupted as recently as 1999.
So, after a very late night of Salsa dancing and drinking copious litre bottles of Tonà beer, I was up at around 8am – orange prison style overalls and goggles in-hand – ready to face my fear and catapult myself down Cerro Negro, with only a small wooden board for company. Here’s my handy eight step guide on the etiquette of throwing yourself off the side of a huge firey mountain.
Step 1) Don’t be hungover
Yep, I failed at the first hurdle. In fairness, I stayed at a ‘party hostel’ so I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for. The savagely uncomfortable rickety old truck which drove us for an hour to reach the Volcano nearly made me throw up multiple times, as well as giving me multiple bruises on my backside. A fantastic start to what was already going to be a harrowing day.
Step 2) Pay for a porter to carry your board
Now, I did get some funny looks from some of the more bravado centered bro’s on our trip, but I didn’t really give a shit. That board was heavy, I had no intention of being a martyr and carrying it up to the top of a 728 metre high volcano for a sweaty hour long hike. I was the only guy that actually went for the easy option. BUT, who was helping the local economy? Who was ensuring the local porters had a regular wage? Not those other chaps, no. I could feel smug AND less tired; win win.
Step 3) Hold your balance
On every face of it, this excursion wasn’t really for me; scared of heights (tick), no balance (tick), generally not particularly adventurous (tick) – it get’s pretty windy atop of a Volcano, not to mention on the way down it. Keep a low centre of gravity and try not to fly away. My balance is like that of a one or two legged dog at the best of times, this attempt at an extreme sport was only ever going to be a disaster.
Step 4) Cover your face
You’ll be given goggles and overalls, but nothing to stick over your nose & mouth. Looking a bit like a Mexican drug-lord who’d just done his first stint in jail, my trusty bandana came in very handy. This is very, very important if you don’t want to get a face full of volcanic gravel when you’re doing 90kph – or in my case, falling off.
Step 5) Don’t lose your board
What’s worse then boarding down the side of a stupidly steep volcano? WALKING DOWN IT. Nothing to grab on to, going very slowly, being blown around all over the shop – nope.
Step 6) Don’t look down
Or do if you’re slightly less bothered about heights than I am. It’s pretty fucking steep, like, it looks almost vertical steep. There was a moment where I very nearly decided just not to bother, but couldn’t face the ensuing ridicule. Plus, I’d have had to carry my board back down as all the porters had gone. Have I mentioned how hungover I was yet?
Step 7) Don’t fall off
Sounds particularly obvious really, but even though I had every intention of not stacking it on a relatively small wooden board whilst on the side of a volcano, it inevitably happened. It was always going to happen in reality. I must have slid down for about 25 metres (maximum) before losing control completely and tumbling downwards at a jaunty angle, desperately trying to cling on to my board so I at least didn’t have to complete the shit-a-brick shuffle/walk all the way to the bottom. This wasn’t the last time I lost control, I managed to come off once more in the relatively short trip to the bottom, albeit slightly less dramatically on the 2nd occasion. I didn’t even try and get back on after that, and did a kind of not so gracious roll to the base of the volcano.
Step 8) Enjoy your post slide beer
The highlight for me, was reaching the bottom and being greeted by an ice cold beer. Everyone was boasting about their times, one guy even got to 75kph on his way down. My top speed? 13kph. I’d have been quicker doing it on all fours, so to speak.